Under pressure from religious fundamentalists who object to adult magazines, the parent company of the nationwide 7-Eleven convenience store chain said Thursday that it will stop selling Playboy, Penthouse and Forum magazines after the May issues currently on newsstands.
Jere W. Thompson, president of Southland Corp. of Dallas, cited what he called growing public concern over a possible link between adult magazines and crime in his company's decision to discontinue sales of the magazines at 4,500 company-operated stores. Thompson said Southland will also recommend that operators of the 3,600 7-Eleven franchise stores participate in the self-imposed ban.
"Southland has been closely monitoring the special hearings being conducted by the U.S. attorney general's Commission on Pornography," Thompson said. "The testimony indicates a growing public awareness and concern over a possible connection between adult magazines and crime, violence and child abuse."
Playboy immediately objected to Southland's decision, saying the magazine had been unfairly lumped in with hard-core pornography.
In applauding the move, fundamentalist religious leader Jerry Falwell suggested that it was a seven-month boycott of the 7-Eleven chain by conservative and fundamentalist groups that prompted Southland to discontinue sales of the three magazines--the only adult publications the chain carries.
The groups had protested sales of the magazines at 7-Eleven outlets because the stores are frequented by children and teen-agers, who play video games and buy convenience items there.
"My congratulations to the courageous leadership at Southland Corp. for putting principle above financial gain," Falwell said. A year ago, Falwell had predicted that "7-Eleven will cave in" to his group's protests.
A Southland spokeswoman, however, denied that pressure from Falwell and other groups caused it to drop the magazines. "We are making our independent action, based on independent sources," she said. Southland had already limited sales of the three magazines by placing them out of sight behind counters, thus requiring the customer to specifically request them.
Biggest So Far
Although a few other retailers have stopped selling adult magazines in recent years, including Washington-based Giant Food Inc. and Atlantic Richfield, the Los Angeles oil company that operates or franchises am/pm mini market stores in five Western states, Southland is apparently the largest chain to institute such a ban.
Officials of New York-based Penthouse magazine, which has a circulation of about 4.4 million, declined to comment on Southland's announcement.
However, the president of Playboy, which has a circulation of about 4.1 million, assailed the move.
"This is a response to the hysteria of the moment," said Christie Hefner, president of Playboy Enterprises and daughter of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. "The idea that Playboy, which has stood for positive, healthy sex for three decades, should be linked to violent pornography or to harmful social effects is absurd."
Southland's decision comes nearly a year after Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III named an 11-member commission to study the effects of pornography and recommend appropriate measures to control its production and distribution. A similar commission 15 years ago concluded that pornography was not a great problem.
Although the Meese commission is not scheduled to issue its findings until June, its work has already drawn criticism from some groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which issued a 30-page report calling the commission biased.
"Under no standard does Playboy or Penthouse rise to the level of obscenity," said Jack Novik, national staff counsel for the ACLU.
However, Novik added, "The store, just like the consumer, can make a decision to carry or not carry a magazine. The First Amendment restricts actions of the government, not private entities. But to the extent that they (Southland) are responding to the powers of the government or a federal panel--restricting access to information out of concern of offending the government--then their action is certainly of concern to us."
James Goss, media analyst for the Chicago investment firm of Duff & Phelps, predicted that the Southland ban on selling adult magazines would not significantly hurt the circulation of the three magazines, although he said Penthouse, which also publishes Forum, stands to lose more readers since it relies more on newsstand sales than Playboy.
"My perception is that there really isn't a groundswell of support for this . . . among food stores and drug stores which have been these magazines' traditional outlets," Goss said. "I'm not sure this move hurts them (adult magazines) significantly." Yet Playboy, which sells 60% of its circulation by subscription, expressed concern that Southland's decision could exacerbate a decline that has cut circulation of the Chicago-based magazine by nearly 50% since the early 1970s.
Christie Hefner said that although sales through 7-Eleven stores account for less than 3% of the magazine's circulation, she planned to appeal to Southland officials to reverse their decision since both the company and Playboy stand to lose a great deal.
"Playboy readers spend $3 billion in convenience stores," she said. "There are a lot of people who pop into a convenience store to pick up a loaf of bread, a six-pack and a magazine. The economics of this are compelling."